The old miko walked up as she watched the group fasten the last of their bundles on their string of horses. An era in her life was coming to an end; she really wasn’t sure if she was ready to see it go.
It was Atae who spotted her first, and began walking her way, quickly chased by Miroku’s two daughters. His silver hair shone in the sunlight, and he smiled at her with a toothy grin much like his father’s in those rare moments when he let other people catch him having a good mood. “Granny! Look!” He said with enthusiasm. “Horses!”
She took him by the hand. “I see that, Atae-chan. Your family and Miroku’s are all packed and ready to go?”
He nodded, but frowned. “But I don’t get to ride on the horses.”
“No, you’ll be going with your mother and father,” Kaede said. “Miroku’s going to visit his foster father Mushin before he comes to join you.”
The twins caught up with them. “Auntie Kaede!” said Yasuko. “You came! Daddy said he didn’t know if you would.”
“What?” Kaede feigned shock as she looked at the little girl who’s red hair ribbon was bobbing in her excitement. “And let you go off without my blessing? Hardly.” She reached into her sleeve and pulled out three sweets wrapped in bamboo leaf, and gave one to each of the children. “I have one for your brother as well. Where is he?”
Noriko, with the blue hair ribbon pointed back to the animals. “Mama has him.”
“Well, let’s go and see them, shall we?” Kaede asked. Followed by her entourage, she made her way towards the rest of the group. For a moment, holding Atae’s hands, she thought about how Rin had behaved when she was still young, and a small pang shot through her. But taking a deep breath, she refocused and had a warm smile when she reached the horse train.
InuYasha snugged a rope around a pannier on one of the horse’s back. “That should do it,” he said, then looked up.
“So InuYasha, you’re about ready to leave,” the miko said.
“Nearly there. But we were going to come down before we left.” He held out a hand and his son looked up at Kaede, hugged her quickly, and reluctantly went to his father.
Kagome walked over to his side, soon joined by Sango and Miroku, both carrying children.
“So this piece of your story is ending, and the next chapter begins,” she said, looking at them all with affection. “The village will miss you all, even you, InuYasha,” nodding her head in his direction.
“You haven’t seen the last of me, old woman,” InuYasha said. “I’ll be back in a few weeks to check up on things.”
“If you hear from Kohaku . . . ” Sango said.
“I’ll be sure to send him in the right direction,” Kaede answered.
Miroku bowed. “It has been an honor to know you, Kaede-sama.”
“Ah, Houshi-sama. Try not to take too much advantage of folks along your way. Even the rich are deserving of the Buddha’s compassion,” she said, smiling at the monk, who coughed into his hand at her comment.
She unslung her quiver and handed it to Kagome. “I’d like you to have these.”
“Kaede – ” Kagome said.
“Remember me when you use them. I am sure, where you’re going, even with your husband, you will find a time or two you will need sacred arrows.” Kaede smiled a crinkled smile at the young woman.
Suddenly, Kagome’s arms were around her. “Thank you, thank you for everything you’ve done.”
She turned towards the hanyou, and a sadness touched his eyes, and hers. “Well, InuYasha. I was your guardian for years before Kagome-chan set you free. Then I set you on your quest, and watched your life unfold. Now it’s your turn to be the guardian, and take care of all these people for me. And keep an eye out on Rin; I expect you to tell me all the news when you return.”
InuYasha smiled at her gently. “I promise,” he said. “Shippou tells me he’s planning on staying here at the village when he’s not off with his kitsunes learning how to make more trouble. If you need anything, send him. He knows the way.”
She nodded, then hugged and blessed each of the children. After a final round of goodbyes, she watched them head off to the main road that would take them away from the village. Sighing, she headed back down the path towards the village.
Yurime, not yet fourteen, watched as Kaede slowly walked down the path. She bowed as the old miko neared.
“Pardon me, Kaede-sama, but my sister sent me looking for you. She thinks her time has come for the baby.”
Kaede smiled, thinking about how the cycle of life goes on - loss and gain. “Well, Yurime-chan, walk with me to my house, and let me get my things, and we’ll go see about her.”
Together, they walked back into the village, where, even without magical creatures walking in its forest, life indeed would go on.